Temperatures are dropping, you’re pulling puffies and fleeces out from the back of the closet, craving hearty meals and baked goods, and maybe even secretly coveting a certain seasonal beverage at your local coffee shop…fall is here.
And what better way to celebrate the season than to plan a trip or two to see the aspens, cottonwoods, maples and other deciduous trees change color for autumn. Luckily for outdoor explorers, some of the best fall leaf-peeping happens in places that are also perfect for hiking, biking, and other adventurous activities.
The fact that these leaves change colors every year never ceases to dazzle onlookers. The shift in colors happens when temperatures cool and days grow shorter, signaling to nutrient-making cells in the tree’s leaves that summer is over. These cells are filled with chlorophyll, a chemical with a strong green color that masks other pigments in the leaves, such as yellow, orange, and red. When the chlorophyll-filled processes slow down, these warmer tones emerge.
But this process happens at different times throughout the country and in different plant species. Here’s a quick guide on where you can see the transition—and what outdoor adventures will allow you to witness it firsthand. Visit this link for an interactive map and more detail on your specific region.
One of the first areas in the country to start showcasing the transition from green to yellows, oranges, and reds, the fall leaf viewing in this region begins in late September and peaks around October 8. By the following week, the leaves’ brilliant display will fade.
The rocky mountain states are right behind the Northeast, starting their foliage shift the last week of September. The high elevations of Colorado and New Mexico will peak first around Octover 1, and lower elevations and the rest of the Rockies (Utah, Wyoming, Montana, parts of Idaho) will peak October 8 through October 15.
The Pacific Northwest's fall leaf viewing season is right behind, starting around October 8 and sticking around through October 29. Higher elevations in the Cascades will peak the week prior. The Southern Cascades in California will be on the same schedule as Oregon and Washington, whereas the lower half of the state falls in the Southwest category.
Fall foliage in Southern California, Nevada, Arizona, and the lower elevation parts of New Mexico is spotty until the week of October 15 through October 22. The display will be in full force by October 29.
The Southeast is another week behind the Southwest, beginning to show color around October 22 and not peaking until the first week of November.